In Sandra Nettelbeck’s wistful romance Mr. Morgan’s Last Love (2013) Michael Caine plays Matthew Morgan, a retired American professor living in Paris several years on from the death of his wife (Jane Alexander). A lonely grief-stricken man, Matthew wanders the city, eating his usual fussily ordered sandwich, visiting his wife’s grave and occasionally lunching with Colette (Anne Alvaro) in a platonic friendship/English lesson. Apart from this weak connection, Matthew has withdrawn into his self, isolating himself from the world, stumbling through his days and the gorgeous city in a grief numbed daze and even refusing to learn French, almost stubbornly protracting his isolation and melancholy.
Following a chance encounter one day with young dance teacher Pauline (Clémence Poésy) on an inner-city bus, the aging Morgan begins to reassess his life, open sup somewhat to the world and finally takes an interest in another living person other than himself. The reawakening emotions are not straightforwardly positive, provoking a crisis in Morgan’s life which in turn brings Morgan’s adult son Miles (Justin Kirk) and daughter Karen (a brazenly funny Gillian Anderson on fine form), to Paris. Written and directed by Nettelbeck and based on the French novel La Douceur Assassine by the writer Françoise Dorner, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is a warm-hearted and well-made English-language melodrama which maintains a light comic touch despite its often melancholic, teary-eyed subject matter.
Caine, sporting a beard and essaying an accent that takes an occasional swing through the American South, is his usual masterful self. Even though his emotionally wrought scenes cannot help but bring to mind echoes of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, he’s a consistently compelling presence and it’s testament to his craft that he makes the thinly written Morgan at once charismatic and yet occasionally unlikable. Best known to English audiences for her turns in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and In Bruges (2008), Poésy proves herself an able actress, imbuing Pauline with charm and vitality. Nettelbeck isn’t exactly afraid of cliché – graves are littered with Autumn leaves, the dead haunt the living and there are arguments in restaurants – and as an in-depth exploration of grief, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love isn’t a patch on Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012). In fairness, this slickly made, slightly ephemeral drama is aimed at a different demographic and tries for a different effect. Here, Paris looks so wonderful that even grief feels attractive.